Tag Archives: wood

Cellulose- and chitin-based biomaterial to replace plastics?

Although the term is not actually used in the news release, one of the materials used to create a new biomaterial could safely be described as nanocellulose. From a Sept. 20, 2017 Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) news release (also on EurekAlert) by Jeff Mulhollem,

An inexpensive biomaterial that can be used to sustainably replace plastic barrier coatings in packaging and many other applications has been developed by Penn State researchers, who predict its adoption would greatly reduce pollution.

Completely compostable, the material — a polysaccharide polyelectrolyte complex — is comprised of nearly equal parts of treated cellulose pulp from wood or cotton, and chitosan, which is derived from chitin — the primary ingredient in the exoskeletons of arthropods and crustaceans. The main source of chitin is the mountains of leftover shells from lobsters, crabs and shrimp consumed by humans.

These environmentally friendly barrier coatings have numerous applications ranging from water-resistant paper, to coatings for ceiling tiles and wallboard, to food coatings to seal in freshness, according to lead researcher Jeffrey Catchmark, professor of agricultural and biological engineering, College of Agricultural Sciences.

“The material’s unexpected strong, insoluble adhesive properties are useful for packaging as well as other applications, such as better performing, fully natural wood-fiber composites for construction and even flooring,” he said. “And the technology has the potential to be incorporated into foods to reduce fat uptake during frying and maintain crispness. Since the coating is essentially fiber-based, it is a means of adding fiber to diets.”

The amazingly sturdy and durable bond between carboxymethyl cellulose and chitosan is the key, he explained. The two very inexpensive polysaccharides — already used in the food industry and in other industrial sectors — have different molecular charges and lock together in a complex that provides the foundation for impervious films, coatings, adhesives and more.

The potential reduction of pollution is immense if these barrier coatings replace millions of tons of petroleum-based plastic associated with food packaging used every year in the United States — and much more globally, Catchmark noted.

He pointed out that the global production of plastic is approaching 300 million tons per year. In a recent year, more than 29 million tons of plastic became municipal solid waste in the U.S. and almost half was plastic packaging. It is anticipated that 10 percent of all plastic produced globally will become ocean debris, representing a significant ecological and human health threat.

crab shells

The material is comprised of cellulose pulp from wood or cotton, and chitosan, derived from chitin, the primary ingredient in the exoskeletons of arthropods and crustaceans. The main source of chitin is shells from lobsters, crabs and shrimp. Image: © iStock Photo OKRAD

The polysaccharide polyelectrolyte complex coatings performed well in research, the findings of which were published recently in Green Chemistry. Paperboard coated with the biomaterial, comprised of nanostructured fibrous particles of carboxymethyl cellulose and chitosan, exhibited strong oil and water barrier properties. The coating also resisted toluene, heptane and salt solutions and exhibited improved wet and dry mechanical and water vapor barrier properties.

“These results show that polysaccharide polyelectrolyte complex-based materials may be competitive barrier alternatives to synthetic polymers for many commercial applications,” said Catchmark, who, in concert with Penn State, has applied for a patent on the coatings.

“In addition, this work demonstrates that new, unexpected properties emerge from multi-polysaccharide systems engaged in electrostatic complexation, enabling new high-performance applications.”

Catchmark began experimenting with biomaterials that might be used instead of plastics a decade or so ago out of concerns for sustainability. He became interested in cellulose, the main component in wood, because it is the largest volume sustainable, renewable material on earth. Catchmark studied its nanostructure — how it is assembled at the nanoscale.

He believed he could develop natural materials that are more robust and improve their properties, so that they could compete with synthetic materials that are not sustainable and generate pollution — such as the low-density polyethylene laminate applied to paper board, Styrofoam and solid plastic used in cups and bottles.

“The challenge is, to do that you’ve got to be able to do it in a way that is manufacturable, and it has to be less expensive than plastic,” Catchmark explained. “Because when you make a change to something that is greener or sustainable, you really have to pay for the switch. So it has to be less expensive in order for companies to actually gain something from it. This creates a problem for sustainable materials — an inertia that has to be overcome with a lower cost.”

lab vials

The amazingly sturdy and durable bond between carboxymethyl cellulose and chitosan is the key. The two very inexpensive polysaccharides, already used in the food industry and in other industrial sectors, have different molecular charges and lock together in a complex that provides the foundation for impervious films, coatings, adhesives and more. Image: Penn State

Funded by a Research Applications for Innovation grant from the College of Agricultural Sciences, Catchmark currently is working to develop commercialization partners in different industry sectors for a wide variety of products.

“We are trying to take the last step now and make a real impact on the world, and get industry people to stop using plastics and instead use these natural materials,” he said. “So they (consumers) have a choice — after the biomaterials are used, they can be recycled, buried in the ground or composted, and they will decompose. Or they can continue to use plastics that will end up in the oceans, where they will persist for thousands of years.”

Also involved in the research were Snehasish Basu, post-doctoral scholar, and Adam Plucinski, master’s degree student, now instructor of engineering at Penn State Altoona. Staff in Penn State’s Material Research Institute provided assistance with the project.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture supported this work. Southern Champion Tray, of Chattanooga, Tennessee, provided paperboard and information on its production for experiments.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Sustainable barrier materials based on polysaccharide polyelectrolyte complexes by
Snehasish Basu, Adam Plucinski, and Jeffrey M. Catchmark. Green Chemistry 2017, 19, 4080-4092 DOI: 10.1039/C7GC00991G

This paper is behind a paywall. One comment, I found an anomaly on the page when I visited. At the top of the citation page, it states that this is issue 17 of Green Chemistry but the citation in the column on the right is “2017, 19 … “, which would be issue 19.

Preserving heritage smells (scents)

Preserving a smell? It’s an intriguing idea and forms the research focus for scientists at the University College London’s (UCL) Institute for Sustainable Heritage according to an April 6, 2017 Biomed Central news release on EurekAlert,

A ‘Historic Book Odour Wheel’ which has been developed to document and archive the aroma associated with old books, is being presented in a study in the open access journal Heritage Science. Researchers at UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage created the wheel as part of an experiment in which they asked visitors to St Paul’s Cathedral’s Dean and Chapter library in London to characterize its smell.

The visitors most frequently described the aroma of the library as ‘woody’ (selected by 100% of the visitors who were asked), followed by ‘smoky’ (86%), ‘earthy'(71%) and ‘vanilla’ (41%). The intensity of the smells was assessed as between ‘strong odor’ and ‘very strong odor’. Over 70% of the visitors described the smell as pleasant, 14% as ‘mildly pleasant’ and 14% as ‘neutral’.

In a separate experiment, the researchers presented visitors to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery with an unlabelled historic book smell – sampled from a 1928 book they obtained from a second-hand bookshop in London – and collected the terms used to describe the smell. The word ‘chocolate’ – or variations such as ‘cocoa’ or ‘chocolatey’ – was used most often, followed by ‘coffee’, ‘old’, ‘wood’ and ‘burnt’. Participants also mentioned smells including ‘fish’, ‘body odour’, ‘rotten socks’ and ‘mothballs’.

Cecilia Bembibre, heritage scientist at UCL and corresponding author of the study said: “Our odour wheel provides an example of how scientists and historians could begin to identify, analyze and document smells that have cultural significance, such as the aroma of old books in historic libraries. The role of smells in how we perceive heritage has not been systematically explored until now.”

Attempting to answer the question of whether certain smells could be considered part of our cultural heritage and if so how they could be identified, protected and conserved, the researchers also conducted a chemical analysis of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which they sampled from books in the library. VOCs are chemicals that evaporate at low temperatures, many of which can be perceived as scents or odors.

Combining their findings from the VOC analysis with the visitors’ characterizations, the authors created their Historic Book Odour wheel, which shows the chemical description of a smell (such as acetic acid) together with the sensory descriptions provided by the visitors (such as ‘vinegar’).

Cecilia Bembibre said: “By documenting the words used by the visitors to describe a heritage smell, our study opens a discussion about developing a vocabulary to identify aromas that have cultural meaning and significance.”

She added: “The Historic Book Odour Wheel also has the potential to be used as a diagnostic tool by conservators, informing on the condition of an object, for example its state of decay, through its olfactory profile.”

The authors suggest that, in addition to its use for the identification and conservation of smells, the Historic Book Odour Wheel could potentially be used to recreate smells and aid the design of olfactory experiences in museums, allowing visitors to form a personal connection with exhibits by allowing them to understand what the past smelled like.

Before this can be done, further research is needed to build on the preliminary findings in this study to allow them to inform and benefit heritage management, conservation, visitor experience design and heritage policy making.

Here’s what the Historic Book Odour Wheel looks like,

Odour wheel of historic book containing general aroma categories, sensory descriptors and chemical information on the smells as sampled (colours are arbitrary) Courtesy: Heritage Science [downloaded from https://heritagesciencejournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40494-016-0114-1

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Smell of heritage: a framework for the identification, analysis and archival of historic odours by Cecilia Bembibre and Matija Strlič. Heritage Science20175:2 DOI: 10.1186/s40494-016-0114-1 Published: 7 April 2017

©  The Author(s) 2017

This paper is open access.

Mimicking the architecture of materials like wood and bone

Caption: Microstructures like this one developed at Washington State University could be used in batteries, lightweight ultrastrong materials, catalytic converters, supercapacitors and biological scaffolds. Credit: Washington State University

A March 3, 2017 news item on Nanowerk features a new 3D manufacturing technique for creating biolike materials, (Note: A link has been removed)

Washington State University nanotechnology researchers have developed a unique, 3-D manufacturing method that for the first time rapidly creates and precisely controls a material’s architecture from the nanoscale to centimeters. The results closely mimic the intricate architecture of natural materials like wood and bone.

They report on their work in the journal Science Advances (“Three-dimensional microarchitected materials and devices using nanoparticle assembly by pointwise spatial printing”) and have filed for a patent.

A March 3, 2017 Washington State University news release by Tina Hilding (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

“This is a groundbreaking advance in the 3-D architecturing of materials at nano- to macroscales with applications in batteries, lightweight ultrastrong materials, catalytic converters, supercapacitors and biological scaffolds,” said Rahul Panat, associate professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, who led the research. “This technique can fill a lot of critical gaps for the realization of these technologies.”

The WSU research team used a 3-D printing method to create foglike microdroplets that contain nanoparticles of silver and to deposit them at specific locations. As the liquid in the fog evaporated, the nanoparticles remained, creating delicate structures. The tiny structures, which look similar to Tinkertoy constructions, are porous, have an extremely large surface area and are very strong.

Silver was used because it is easy to work with. However, Panat said, the method can be extended to any other material that can be crushed into nanoparticles – and almost all materials can be.

The researchers created several intricate and beautiful structures, including microscaffolds that contain solid truss members like a bridge, spirals, electronic connections that resemble accordion bellows or doughnut-shaped pillars.

The manufacturing method itself is similar to a rare, natural process in which tiny fog droplets that contain sulfur evaporate over the hot western Africa deserts and give rise to crystalline flower-like structures called “desert roses.”

Because it uses 3-D printing technology, the new method is highly efficient, creates minimal waste and allows for fast and large-scale manufacturing.

The researchers would like to use such nanoscale and porous metal structures for a number of industrial applications; for instance, the team is developing finely detailed, porous anodes and cathodes for batteries rather than the solid structures that are now used. This advance could transform the industry by significantly increasing battery speed and capacity and allowing the use of new and higher energy materials.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Three-dimensional microarchitected materials and devices using nanoparticle assembly by pointwise spatial printing by Mohammad Sadeq Saleh, Chunshan Hu, and Rahul Panat. Science Advances  03 Mar 2017: Vol. 3, no. 3, e1601986 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1601986

This paper appears to be open access.

Finally, there is a video,

Hydrodynamic alignment and assembly of nano-fibrils results in cellulose fibers stronger than both aluminum and steel

A June 2, 2014 news item on Azonano describes the new fibres (which come from wood),

“Our filaments are stronger than both aluminium and steel per weight,” emphasizes lead author Prof. Fredrik Lundell from the Wallenberg Wood Science Center at the Royal Swedish Institute of Technology KTH in Stockholm. “The real challenge, however, is to make bio based materials with extreme stiffness that can be used in wind turbine blades, for example. With further improvements, in particular increased fibril alignment, this will be possible.”

The June 2, 2014 DESY ( one of the world’s leading accelerator centres) press release describes the research in detail,

A Swedish-German research team has successfully tested a new method for the production of ultra-strong cellulose fibres at DESY’s research light source PETRA III. The novel procedure spins extremely tough filaments from tiny cellulose fibrils by aligning them all in parallel during the production process. …

For their method, the researchers took tiny, nanometre-sized cellulose fibrils and fed them together with water through a small channel. Two additional water jets coming in perpendicular from left and right accelerate the fibril flow. “Following the acceleration, all nano fibrils align themselves more or less parallel with the flow,” explains co-author Dr. Stephan Roth from DESY, head of the experimental station P03 at PETRA III where the experiments took place. “Furthermore, salt is added to the outer streams. The salt makes the fibrils attach to each other, thereby locking the structure of the future filament.”

Finally, the wet filaments are left to dry in air where they shrink to form a strong fibre. “Drying takes a few minutes in air,” explains co-author Dr. Daniel Söderberg from KTH. “The resulting material is completely compatible with the biosphere, since the natural structure of the cellulose is maintained in the fibrils. Thus, it is biodegradable and compatible with human tissue.”

The bright X-ray light from PETRA III enabled the scientists to follow the process and check the configuration of the nano fibrils at various stages in the flow. “Research today is driven by cross-disciplanary collaborations,” underlines Söderberg. “Without the excellent competence and possibilities brought into the project by the team of DESY’s experimental station P03 this would not have been possible.”

As the scientists write, their fibres are much stronger than all other previously reported artificial filaments from cellulose nano fibrils. In fact, the artificial filaments can rival the strongest natural cellulose pulp fibres extracted from wood at the same degree of alignment of the nano fibrils. “In principle, we can make very long fibres,” says Lundell. “Up until now we have made samples that where ten centimetres long or so, but that is more of an equipment issue than a fundamental problem.”

For their experiments, the researchers have used nano fibrils extracted from fresh wood. “In principle, it should be possible to obtain fibrils from recycled paper also,” says Lundell. But he cautions: “The potential of recycled material in this context needs further investigations.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the published paper,

Hydrodynamic alignment and assembly of nano-fibrils resulting in strong cellulose filaments by Karl M. O. Håkansson, Andreas B. Fall, Fredrik Lundell, Shun Yu, Christina Krywka, Stephan V. Roth, Gonzalo Santoro, Mathias Kvick, Lisa Prahl Wittberg, Lars Wågberg & L. Daniel Söderberg. Nature Communications, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/ncomms5018

This is an open access paper.

I posted a June 3, 2014 item on cellulose nanofibriil titled:  Doubling paper strength with nanofibrils; a nanocellulose.